I recently read Charles Murray's book "Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010". In his book Charles articulates that our uniquely American form of government, society and prosperity are based upon - four virtues. This column draws from his virtues and expands upon them.
America remains the first and oldest Constitutional republic in the world. But I believe neither the Constitution nor the republic can long endure without the founding virtues upon which they are both based.
What are those founding virtues? They are: Industriousness, honesty, marriage and religiosity?
I ask for your patience as I briefly describe each and how we have abandoned them to our great peril. I suggest that if we do not rekindle and restore these founding virtues our national security is at great risk.
Frances Grund, the seventh son of a German Baron educated in Vienna, who immigrated to Philadelphia in 1825, wrote:
“No government could be established on the same principle as that of the United States with a different set of morals. The American Constitution is remarkable for its simplicity; but it can only suffice a people correct in their actions. Change the domestic habits of the Americans, their religious devotion, and their highest respect for morality and it will not be necessary to change a single letter of the Constitution in order to vary the whole form of their government.”
Our Founding Fathers consistently spoke about the virtue of industriousness or what we today call industry or the world of work.
Industry signifies qualities that motivated the Revolution in the first place – a desire not just to be free to speak one’s mind, to practice religion as one saw fit, and to be taxed only with representation, but the bone-deep American assumption that life is to be spent getting ahead through hard work, making a better life for oneself and one’s children. No other America quality has so consistently been seen as exceptional.
Frances Grund wrote, “Active occupation is not only the principal source of [the American’s] happiness, and the foundation of their natural greatness, but they are absolutely wretched without it … It is the very soul of an American; he pursues it, not as a means of procuring comforts of life, but as the foundation of all human contentment.”
Henry Adams, American journalist, historian, academic, novelist and grandson of John Quincy Adams noted, “The penniless and homeless Scotch or Irish immigrant was caught and consumed by it; for every stroke of the axe and the hoe made him a capitalist, and made gentlemen of his children … The instinct of activity, once created, seemed heritable and permanent in the race.”
Today I am concerned that we are rapidly approaching a time where more people vote for a living than work for a living. The uniquely American work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit is being replaced by a mindset based on finding ways of getting something for nothing. What Abraham Lincoln called that old snake, you work and I eat. Coveting what others have is upon us and it threatens our economic and thereby our national security.
The importance of honesty in making a limited government work is self-evident – nothing short of a police state will force people to refrain from crime if they are predisposed otherwise and an assumption that people will follow the rules is indispensable for making a free market work. The founders could see that as easily as you and I can today.
For Thomas Jefferson honesty “Is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.”
George Washington was himself legendarily honest and twice he included honesty in lists of virtues necessary in the American people.
John Adams noted the difference between the American Revolution and those in France and the Netherlands as, “It is want of honesty; and if the common people in America lose their integrity, they will soon set up tyrants of their own.”
Thomas Jefferson did not worry about assimilating European immigrants to the United States because while they would bring their European vices with them, “these, I think, would soon be diluted and evaporated in a country of plain honesty.”
In the military we have a code of conduct, a brotherhood based upon duty, honor and country. Honesty is honor personified. It is dishonest and immoral for a soldier to betray his country. Honesty remains the soldiers’ armor against the evils we have faced since our founding. We wear the full armor of God. Fascist Italy, Imperial Japan and Communism under the former Soviet Union were at their very core dishonest.
If our soldiers and our leaders become dishonest we face collapse not from an external threat but rather from an internal rotting of our souls where good and evil are relative and conditional. When we reach that point, and some say we already have, then redemption is the only solution. We must all as soldiers of God bow down and ask for the forgiveness of our sins.
Marriage in the United States was seen by our founding fathers as a different kind of union than marriage in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Part of the difference is America’s rejection of arranged marriages. Men courted, but the women accepted or rejected. Understanding that a little girl would eventually have the great responsibility for evaluating prospective mates drove how she was brought up, her education and her critical role in American society.
Count Alexis de Tocqueville wrote:
“If democratic nations leave a woman at liberty to choose her husband … they take care to give her mind sufficient knowledge, and her will sufficient strength, to make so important a choice … Thus American women do not marry until their understandings are exercised and ripened; whereas in other countries most women generally only begin to exercise and ripen their understandings after marriage.”
De Tocqueville concluded his seminal work Democracy in America with this remarkable passage, “If I were asked, now that I am drawing to the close of this work, in which I have spoken of so many important things done by Americans, to what the singular prosperity and growing strength of that people ought mainly to be attributed, I should reply – to the superiority of their women.”
Today in America traditional marriage is not reinforced but rather is being redefined. If the state absorbs the family then the building block of this nation is eliminated. Marriage is the best and most lasting bond between a man a woman, this is especially so for our military families. We must strengthen marriage and the Church is best able to do that, not the state.
John Adams referred to the Bible as, “The most republican book in the world.”
The Count de Tocqueville summed it up best when he wrote:
“Thus, while the law permits the Americans to do what they please, religion prevents them from conceiving, and forbids them to commit, what is rash or unjust. Religion in America takes no direct part in the government of society, but it must be regarded as the first of their political institutions; for if it does not impart a taste for freedom, it facilitates the use of it. Indeed, it is in this same part of view that the inhabitants of the United States themselves look upon religion – for who can search the human heart? – But I am certain that they hold it to be indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions. This opinion is not particular to a class of citizens or to a party, but it belongs to the whole nation and to every rank in society … The American combines the notions of Christianity and of liberty so intimately in their minds that it is impossible to make them conceive the one without the other.”
President Thomas Jefferson wrote, “No nation has ever yet existed or been governed without religion. Nor can it be. The Christian religion is the best religion that has ever been given to man and I as Chief Magistrate of this nation am bound to give it the sanction of my example.”
In closing I quote Catholic philosopher, journalist, novelist, and diplomat Michael Novak who summarized the true health of America as follows:
Liberty is the object of the Republic.
Liberty needs virtue.
Virtue among the people is impossible without religion.
I believe this nation and therefore our national security is based upon the uniquely Christian pillars of industriousness, honesty, marriage and religiosity. To believe otherwise is not in keeping with our beloved Constitution and the republic for which it stands.